We’re just a little more than two months into the new year and in just two unexpected off-season moves, the state of Arizona lost 73 years of coaching experience.
Just a couple of days into January, Larry Fetkenhier resigned from his position as head football coach at Glendale’s Cactus High School, a job he has held for the last 33 years.
And this week, Miner Webster announced he was hanging up his whistle after 40 years coaching basketball, the last 25 at Highland High School in Gilbert, where he built his legacy. After several seasons of considering retirement, the 65-year-old Webster announced his decision at Highland’s end-of-the-year banquet for the girls’ basketball program
Both coaches have earned the right to be called one of the best in their chosen sport. Fetkenhier is one of the winningest high school coaches in the state and one of only seven football coaches to rack up 300 career wins. His record of 316-96-3 includes just one losing season.
Fetkenhier, who moved to Arizona 33 years ago after being laid off from his job in Michigan, has taken his teams to seven state championship games, won two titles, and also picked up 14 championships in regional and sectional play. He’s a member of the Arizona Coaches Hall of Fame and the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two coaches leaving the games they loved is the reason behind each. Fetkenhier, despite being a very popular coach, was forced from his position when the school administration told him they wanted to “take the program in a different direction.” Webster left on his own terms, deciding it was just time to step away.
Webster has spent the last three decades coaching girls’ basketball, which doesn’t get the kind of attention given to football, but during that time his career accomplishments have become the stuff of legends.
His career record of 816-157 means that he has won 84 percent of his games. To appreciate that, consider that John Wooden won 87 percent of his games during the 27 years he was building a college dynasty in men’s basketball at UCLA, and Morgan Wooten won 87 percent on the high school level. Wooten earned his own legendary status during 47 years as the boys’ basketball coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland and is generally considered the best prep coach of all time.
Through his success, Webster has contributed much to the sport in Arizona. Five years ago, he was recognized as the National Coach of the Year, which shone the national spotlight on this state. Girls’ basketball is still developing and growing in the Southwest, coming late to the party after long-established programs have built tradition and prestige in the East and in the Midwest. Coaches like Miner Webster have helped to change that trend.
Webster started out coaching boys’ basketball, spending three years running the program at Parker High before moving to Gilbert High where he eventually took over the girls’ program there. He won a couple of state championships in five years with the Tigers before switching to Highland when that school opened in 1993, and spent the last 25 years building a dynasty by winning 22 region titles and eight state championships.
He notched his 800th win at the end of November when his Hawks beat Mountain View (Mesa) High School in a 53-21 romp. That put Webster in a very exclusive club. He joined Gary Ernst, the boys’ coach at Mountain View, as the only two basketball coaches in state history to reach 800 wins.
Not that long ago, Webster wasn’t sure his health would allow him to keep coaching long enough to reach the 800 plateau. But back surgery in 2012 gave him a new lease on life, and the coaching longevity needed to reach that goal.
After that season, he decided he would take it one year at a time as he chased after No. 800.
So, with 16 extra wins in his pocket, it seemed like a good time to close out a career.